Photo of Gbenga Adesina SAN FRANCISCO (September 30, 2020)—The editors of Narrative have awarded Gbenga Adesina the 2020 Narrative Prize, given annually for the best work by an emerging writer published in the previous year in Narrative. Adesina, a Nigerian poet and essayist, receives the prize for his poem “Across the Sea: A Sequence,” and for previously published work in Narrative that includes “I Carried My Father Across the Sea” and “Ode to What I Do Not Know.”

The children of God are upon frightened waters,
And God being hunger, God being the secret grief of salt
moves among his people and does not spare them.
The children of God are upon frightened waters.

—From Across the Sea: A Sequence

In giving the award to Adesina, author and Narrative cofounder Carol Edgarian noted, “Gbenga Adesina’s work honors and humanizes the personal and historical grief of immigrant families, the generational scars of racism, the joys and complexities of familial love, and the abiding belief that poetry can carry us across the water. The magic of Adesina’s poetry is that he twines painful truths with abundant gifts of clarity, empathy, and, yes, love.”

Narrative’s poetry editor Michael Wiegers added, “Throughout history poems have affixed in our consciousness tales of human passage and movement. So many of our families, so many of our lives, are the result of immigration, and in Gbenga Adesina’s poetry I’ve repeatedly been struck by the deep homage he pays to family and culture as they reflect on the dignity, eros, and pain of lives in transition and migration. We’re thrilled to celebrate his work with our readers.”

Adesina is a graduate of New York University, where he received an MFA as the Goldwater Poetry Fellow. His poetry chapbook, Painter of Water, a meditation on intimacy in the face of violence, was published in 2016 by APBF and Akashic Books as part of the New Generation African Poets series, edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. Adesina, the 2019–2020 Olive B. O’Connor Poetry Fellow at Colgate University, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The Narrative Prize recognizes writers whose talent and accomplishments place them at the forefront of a new generation of storytellers. Previous winners include Brenden Willey, Paisley Rekdal, Javier Zamora, Sara Houghteling, Ocean Vuong, Austin Smith, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Nathan Poole, Natalie Diaz, Kevin A. González, Anthony Marra, Maud Newton, Alexi Zentner, Michael Dickman, Alma García, Saidiya Hartman, Mermer Blakeslee, Ned Parker, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, and Min Jin Lee.


Founded in 2003, Narrative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging readership across generations, in schools, and around the globe. As the premier digital publisher of first-rank fiction, poetry, essays, and art, each year Narrative publishes hundreds of well-known and emerging writers. The Narrative in the Schools program supports teachers and students around the world, who are too often hampered by limited resources, by providing free reading, lesson plans, video tutorials, and the annual Narrative “Tell Me a Story” high school writing contest to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. Narrative was founded on the conviction that there should be no socioeconomic barriers to accessing great literature. Our ever-expanding modern library of thousands of stories, poems, and essays is free to all.